Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Reformation of Mrs. Banks in Disney's Mary Poppins

Well, Taegan seems to be learning quite a bit about movie adaptation from our little Mary Poppins unit. Since we watched the Disney film version a couple of weeks ago, she has noted several differences between the book and the movie. This is typical: she often quietly observes something and then brings up its various aspects over the course of the next several weeks or even months, continually thinking through the issues raised by the occurrence. Soon after we watched the film, for instance, she expressed her disappointment that John and Barbara don’t appear in the movie. (I think the scene in which the babies talk to a bird was her favorite in the book!) Several days later, she commented that while the book said that Mary Poppins is plain, in the movie she is very pretty. And yesterday she announced, in what seemed like utter indignation, “In the movie, Mary Poppins says that she is never cross, but in the book she is cross all the time!” Indeed, Mary Poppins, the movie, is frustratingly dissimilar to the book.

This is not news to the critics, who have thoroughly outlined all the ways that Disney changed the story (much to the dismay of PL Travers, according to a great article in a 2005 issue of The New Yorker, which reports on the author’s lengthy negotiations with Disney and her troubled response to the film). As Donald Levin points out after citing many of the differences between the book and the film, “the entire narrative line of the Disney movie is fabricated” (116). Most interesting to me, of course, are the drastic differences between the portrayal of Mrs. Banks in the book and her depiction in the film. Mrs. Banks plays a very minor role in Travers’s version, merely peeking into the nursery every once in a while to check on how the children are faring with Mary Poppins. She is also a static character, just as uninvolved in her children’s care—and as committed to the notion of utilizing a nanny—at the end of the novel as she is at the beginning. In the film, though, Winifred Banks starts out as a committed suffragist who marches in support of votes for women and condones the throwing of eggs at Winston Churchill. At the end of the movie, however, Winifred is transformed into a model mother, using her suffragist sash, so dear to her at the movie’s opening, as a tail for the children’s kite. She is thus depicted as putting aside her rallies and controversial ideals in order to return to the nursery upon Mary Poppins’s departure. In the end, then, the film restores the Banks household to its rightful order, with Mrs. Banks as the primary caretaker of the children.

Of course, in this way, Disney’s 1964 Mary Poppins says more about its own historical moment than life in a British household in either the 1930s, when the book was set, or the 1910s, when the story in the film is supposed to take place. As Anne McLeer points out, roles for middle-class women were beginning to change in the 1960s, but many Americans were nostalgic for the romanticized nuclear family of the 1950s (4). The film, therefore, works to contain anxieties surrounding the fact that women were more and more often seeking fulfillment outside of the home by “bolster[ing] the ideal American family structure of breadwinning father, stay-at-home mother, and children” (McLeer 5).

My question is this, then: if Mrs. Banks’s characterization demonstrates a cultural response to the increasing empowerment of women in the 1960s, what will her characterization in the theatrical version—which opened on Broadway in 2006 and has experienced continued financial success for the past four years—tell us about how we feel about women and motherhood today? Stay tuned. I will report back after we see the musical on June 6th. And I’ll let you know what Taegan has to say about how Mary Poppins’s demeanor—supposed to be haughty and “cross,” according to the book—comes across in the play.

Bibliographic Note: Critics have discussed Winifred Banks’s characterization extensively. See Caitlin Flanagan and Lori Kenschaft in addition to McLeer.

Works Cited

Flanagan, Caitlin. “Becoming Mary Poppins: PL Travers, Walt Disney, and the Making of a Myth.” The New Yorker. 19 Dec. 2005 ( 26 May 2010.

Kenschaft, Lori. “Just a Spoonful of Sugar? Anxieties of Gender and Class in Mary Poppins. Girls, Boys, Books, Toys: Gender in Children's Literature and Culture. Ed. Beverly Lyon Clark and Margaret R. Higonnet. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1999. 227-42.

Levin, Donald. “The Americanization of Mary: Contesting Cultural Narratives in Disney’s Mary Poppins.” Fantasy Fiction into Film: Essays. Ed. Leslie Stratyner and James R. Keller. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007. 115-23.

Mary Poppins. Dir. Robert Stevenson. Perf. Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke. Walt Disney Studios, 1964.

McLeer, Anne. “Practical Perfection? The Nanny Negotiates Gender, Class, and Family Contradictions in 1960s Popular Culture.” NWSA Journal 14.2 (2002): 80-101.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Disability in Kim Edwards's The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Standard pre-natal care these days includes an impressive battery of tests, intended to inform prospective mothers and fathers about the health and able-bodiedness of fetuses in utero. Surely all parents who choose to undergo these tests anxiously await the results, hoping that their babies will be declared healthy and “normal.” Of course, even if a child is born without a disability like Spina Bifida or Down syndrome, for instance, his or her future able-bodiedness is never guaranteed. My son was recently immunized with MMR, a vaccine linked in some popular discourses to the development of autism. Even though I am familiar with the official medical stance on MMR—that it is a critical vaccine and most likely does not cause autism—I felt a twinge of fear when the nurse injected Wes’s perfect little body (see for yourself in the image to the left!) with what seemed at the moment a potentially dangerous serum. My point is that—like me—most parents are deeply afraid of their children being diagnosed with or developing a disability of any type. It is no surprise, then, that much of the online discussion of Kim Edwards’s 2005 best-selling The Memory Keeper’s Daughter centers on the character of Phoebe, a girl with Down syndrome who was tragically given away by her father, a man who at her birth in 1964 refused to accept her into that which he perceived as his ideal middle-class family.

Disturbingly, I would argue that the novel portrays David Henry’s—admittedly tormented—decision to give Phoebe up and then lie to his wife, Norah, and son, Paul, for the rest of his life, telling them the little girl died at birth, as grounded in the particular context of the 1960s. David carries out this horrendous and ongoing act of rejection and dishonesty only in order to live up to the impossible standards set out for the traditional nuclear family unit of the mid-twentieth century, a unit headed by an authoritative man, managed by a loving woman, and completed by children free of “defects.” In this blog, I claim that the novel’s recurring bee/wasp imagery contributes to its characterization of the Henrys as caught in a patriarchal system that, because it devalues anything perceived as outside of the scope of traditional middle-class family life, causes irreparable loss in the lives of all of the book’s characters.

I published an article on Sylvia Plath’s 1965 bee sequence a couple of years ago, and I find that the depiction of bees and wasps in The Memory Keeper’s Daughter resonates with Plath’s use of bees to symbolize the stifling nature of motherhood and housewifery for middle-class women in the mid-twentieth century. In my article on Plath’s bee poems, I argue that Plath uses the life cycle of a queen bee to represent the typical life stages of middle-class womanhood in the 1950s and 60s. A young female bee must fight with other females for the contested position of queen bee. Once she has secured the position, her job is to reproduce. When she is too old to fill this role, the queen bee is removed from the hive. Just like a middle-class woman, as Plath demonstrates in the first of her bee poems, entitled “The Bee Meeting,” the queen bee is forced to compete with others of her sex for the attention of males. She then settles into a routine of baby-making for as long as possible, and she is set out to die when she is no longer useful. In another of the bee sequence, “Stings,” Plath describes the last flight of an elderly queen, a final act of angry retaliation against the system that has trapped her in a life of service to the hive. In this way, Plath uses bee imagery not only to delineate the systematic oppression of women coerced into the traditional roles of wife and mother but also to express the anger that women feel toward the patriarchal forces that oppress them in various ways.

Edwards taps into the rich imagery surrounding bees in three key scenes in The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. In one of these, set in the year 1970, a discontented Norah determines to dismantle a nest of wasps near her garage in preparation for a party at her house that evening. After she is stung a couple of times in pursuit of this goal, she decides to use her brand-new Electrolux vacuum cleaner to sweep up the wasps. Afraid that the wasps will escape the vacuum cleaner, a slightly drunk Norah then slips the end of its hose into the exhaust pipe of her vehicle. She returns to the house for a few minutes, until she hears a loud noise and sees parts of the Electrolux fly across the lawn. Gas fumes from the car had caused the machine to explode. It is at this point that Norah’s anger at the circumstances of her life comes to a head. She pulls the bag out of the vacuum cleaner remains and stomps on it frantically. As she is “dancing on the pulpy mess, wild and intent,” Norah fights “for some understanding of herself” (138). She considers her roles of wife and mother and “discover[s] that these words were far too small ever to contain the experience” (138). The incident with the wasps becomes a turning point in Norah’s life, after which she stops drinking and takes a full-time job at which she later excels. As the hive is destroyed, so too is the façade of Norah’s life as a fulfilled wife and mother. In this way, of course, Norah explores an option perhaps not available to the female characters of Plath’s poems written in the early 1960s, employment outside of the home. Although her devotion to her career does not take the place of her love of her son or fill the emptiness left by the daughter that she lost at birth, it does provide her with much-needed intellectual stimulation and allows her to develop an identity as a successful business woman instead of merely an overprotective and grieving mother. Norah is able to crush the hive representative of a patriarchal system which positions her as subservient to a husband and subjected to the consequences of the choices that he makes about their lives and go on to forge a subjectivity on her own merit and make decisions for herself.

Despite Norah’s escape from the oppression of the patriarchal middle-class family system, her children remain the victims of this institution. Both Paul and Phoebe inherit an allergy to bees, and both experience near-death episodes after bee stings as small children. In this way, of course, both children are depicted as indoctrinated into a system that harms them. It is important, too, to remember that they get their allergy to bees from their father, who suffers as much as his wife or either of his children as a result of his effort to rid the Henry family of defect, to fall in line with the mid-twentieth-century popular perception of the “perfect” middle-class family life which leaves no room for a daughter with a disability.

Overall, then, the bee and wasp imagery in the novel tie David’s decision to give away a daughter with Down’s syndrome to the dominant ideologies of a particular era in history, a time when men were supposed to have complete decision rights over their families, when women were supposed to find fulfillment in motherhood and housewifery alone, and when a suburban family was supposed to consist of a mother, a father, and able-bodied children. Disability specialist Simi Linton claims that the novel’s depiction of Phoebe provides us with “an opportunity to consider the ongoing oppression and discrimination that mark most disabled people’s lives” (par. 8). I disagree. I argue, in fact, that Edwards covers over the continued mistreatment of and prejudices against the disabled in our own time, the still-present anxieties that cause us to undergo so many pre-natal tests and fear vaccines. In short, by dismissing David’s choice as understandable under the circumstances of the 1960s, the novel relieves readers of their own responsibility for perpetuating the stigma attached to disability in our own time.

Works Cited

Edwards, Kim. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. New York: Penguin, 2005.

Linton, Simi. “Reading The Memory Keeper’s Daughter: The Missing Disability Perspective.” [Weblog Entry.] Disability Culture Watch. 12 Feb. 2007 ( 24 May 2010.

Plath, Sylvia. Ariel. New York: HarperCollins, 1965.

Wolfe, Andrea Powell. “(Re)visioning the Cinderella Myth: Sylvia Plath’s Bee Poems.” Interactions 17.2 (2008): 111-23.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Female Self-Actualization as Performance in the “Little Girls Going Hard on ‘Single Ladies’” Video

The recently posted YouTube video featuring five young girls performing a provocative dance routine to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” has generated scads of criticism in online communities of all types. Besides tsk-tsking at the girls’ scanty outfits, their sexualized dance moves, and the obvious moral bankruptcy of their parents, columnists have repeatedly pointed out that this video is great fodder for sexual predators of children. On a more personal level, blogging mommies around the world have taken this opportunity to assure readers that they would never allow their little girls to wear these kinds of outfits or to perform these types of dance moves. As a mother of a seven-year-old daughter who, although she has never taken a dance class in her life and despite the protestations of her feminist mother, has been known to “dress up” in just a scarf draped provocatively around her body and perform what many would consider inappropriate moves in our family room to pop songs on the stereo, I have to say that most of the online postings concerning this video seem to me a bit self-righteous and overly moralistic. Many who are discussing this video elide the very real issues that it raises about how our culture teaches young girls that not only female sexuality but also female self-actualization as a whole is merely a performance as well as a commodity available for purchase by men.

Certainly, the outfits that the girls in the video are wearing are outrageous, and, of course, their moves are inappropriate for seven-, eight-, and nine-year-olds. But it goes much deeper than simply pronouncing the girls’ parents irresponsible and scaring up hoards of web-based pedophiles. We must examine what this video shows us regarding the lessons that we teach our girls about what it means to be a woman in our culture.

And I think that it makes sense to start with an interrogation of the song chosen for this routine, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.” Although the title of the song insinuates that the song might celebrate the freedom of single living or the bonds between single women, the narrator of the 12-stanza song addresses other women in only two stanzas, and even at that, only to encourage “all the single ladies” to “put your hands up.” The rest of the lyrics are directed at the narrator’s ex-boyfriend and provide a details regarding the attention that the narrator seeks and secures from other men in the club: “I got gloss on my lips, a man on my hips / Got me tighter in my Dereon jeans / Acting up, drink in my cup / I can care less what you think.” The song goes on to admonish the ex-boyfriend for his apparent unwillingness to enter into a committed relationship, with the repetition of the line, “If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it.” Not only do the lyrics thus posit women as objects instead of people and reiterate the stereotype of women as always out to entrap men in marriage, but they also portray the typical “ladies’ night out” not as a celebration of womanhood or an opportunity to forge bonds between women but instead as a performance of female sexuality for male observers, both real and imagined. Indeed, the song insinuates that women in clubs move their bodies in certain ways on the dance floor in order to attract men and thus prove their value as commodities. Women in bars do not seek the pleasure of dancing, drinking, flirting or even sex on the basis of its own merit but instead perform pleasure in these various ways in order to increase their value among men.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this song—and various other popular songs like it—is that it masquerades as a celebration of female self-actualization. The narrator is going out on the town after a break-up; she will not let a man keep her down. She seems independent and self-confident in lines like, “I’m doing my own little thing” and “I need no permission, did I mention.” In reality, though, the speaker’s activities at the bar both conceal and reveal her overarching need for male attention and approval. She goes on to emphasize that many men are noticing her and that therefore her ex-boyfriend should have realized her value before their break-up: “Decided to dip and now you wanna trip / Cause another brother noticed me.” She therefore merely performs confidence, self-expression, and happiness in order to prove her value to her ex.

This interpretation of the song is significant in the context of the video for a few reasons. First of all, it compounds the ways in which these little girls are, in fact, performing an adult version of sexuality that they cannot possibly understand. As psychologist Leonard Sax points out in his compelling analysis of the video, “Underage girls dancing in lingerie, . . . are sexually objectifying themselves, putting their bodies on display for the entertainment and titillation of others. That kind of activity teaches girls that sexuality is a commodity which girls provide to boys” (par. 8). Surely, the choice of song for this routine reiterates to both the girls dancing and viewers of the performance that women’s bodies are up for grabs on the market of exchange between men. But, in that it positions female self-actualization as performance as well, it also undermines the ways in which these girls’ routine might be said to represent a meaningful expression of their love of dance or their understanding of themselves as talented dancers or, more generally, valuable human beings. Indeed, the lyrics of the song suggest that the girls must perform in this way with the end goal that men “like it” enough to “put a ring on it.”

Finally, the lyrics of “Single Ladies” are relevant here because of the defense that the five girls’ parents have proffered up against the attacks of the mainstream media and blogosphere. On television’s Inside Edition, two of the parents protested that critics of the video are taking the girls’ performance out of context, that the dance routine was actually developed using the moves performed to “Single Ladies” by the animated characters of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. This assertion simply proves my point, that the harmful antifeminist ideology that undergirds both this video and the song itself is widespread and—the response to this particularly inflammatory video aside—widely accepted among even the most “progressive” of parents. My daughter watched The Squeakquel at her dad’s house several months ago; it never occurred to me at the time to wonder about the underlying messages that a seemingly harmless dance sequence in the movie might send to young girls.

This problem affects not just the five girls who performed “Single Ladies” in the video, but all of our young daughters. And the responsibility for combating a dominant ideology that posits female sexuality as commodity and female self-actualization as performance rests not just with these five sets of parents, but with all of us.

Works Cited

Sax, Leonard. “Underage Girls Dancing Onstage in Lingerie.” [Weblog Entry.] Sax on Sex. Psychology Today. 16 May 2010. ( 16 May 2010.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Inevitability and Powerlessness in Margaret Atwood's "Giving Birth"

Margaret Atwood’s 1982 “Giving Birth” includes a short sketch of a set of prospective parents in a childbirth class. The group consists of several first-time mothers and fathers and only one woman who has given birth before: “She’s there, she says, to make sure they give her a shot this time. They delayed it last time and she went through hell” (261). In response to this proclamation, the other participants in the class “look at her with mild disapproval. They are not clamouring for shots, they do not intend to go through hell. Hell comes from the wrong attitude, they feel. The books talk about discomfort” (261). This scene resonates with my own experience. When I was pregnant with my now one-year-old, my husband and I enrolled in a childbirth class, mostly because this was to be his first child and I wanted him to feel included in this process with which I was already at least somewhat familiar, but also because, like Atwood’s experienced mother, my first delivery had been terrible and I was in search of some way to ensure that this one would be different. Since I had previously given birth, I was much like the woman whom Atwood describes in this scene, the only one in the group of hopeful soon-to-be mothers and their partners who had experienced the terror of labor. During the first scheduled childbirth class, the instructor encouraged us, during childbirth, to envision each contraction as a “squeeze” and assured us that these “squeezes” would not cause pain but only—and here’s that word again—discomfort. It was at that moment that I recognized this woman—who claimed to have given birth to one child herself—as simply a liar or, perhaps, as one of the lucky ones who had gotten the drugs during childbirth for which I had hysterically screamed during my first delivery. I yearned to warn the other women in the room, as the experienced mother in Atwood’s story does: “’It’s not discomfort, it’s pain, baby’” (261). I kept my mouth shut, though, and decided that instead of attempting to sway the minds of the women in that room who seemed to need to believe in the wonder of childbirth to the exclusion of its often very real agony and gore, that I would just skip the remaining classes in the childbirth course. This course could do nothing to help me through the battle that would inevitably ensue—between my insides intent on expelling my baby and my outsides trying desperately to hold me intact—and that would just as inevitably leave as its primary casualty my split and bloody body, not to mention my psychologically battered consciousness.

This sense of dreadful inevitability that I felt throughout my second pregnancy is powerfully depicted in “Giving Birth.” Indeed, although some critics read the story’s portrayal of giving birth as a metaphor for a woman’s creative process, I claim that this short piece takes as its most literal theme a mother’s complete powerlessness to escape the terrible and bodily violence that occurs in childbirth. In this way, Atwood intervenes in the romantic discourses that still pervade the dominant ideologies surrounding maternity and this process named—curiously, as Atwood points out—“giving birth.”

The narrator of the piece—a writer and a mother of a young toddler herself—recounts her plan to create a story in which a woman named Jeanie goes through the process of childbirth. Throughout her pregnancy, the character of Jeannie is shadowed by another pregnant woman, one “who did not wish to become pregnant, who did not choose to divide herself like this, who did not choose any of these ordeals, these initiations” (260-61). On the way to the hospital to give birth, Jeanie contemplates the position of this woman who is inevitably headed toward the same birthing process that Jeanie will undergo: “It would be no use telling her that everything is going to be fine. The word in English for unwanted intercourse is rape. But there is no word in the language for what is about to happen to this woman” (260). Of course, this woman seems to represent a part of Jeanie’s own consciousness, the part of her—and the part of each soon-to-be mother—that fears the process in which her body is caught and from which she is powerless to escape.

Indeed, it is this powerlessness that makes the birthing process so terrible for Jeanie in the hours to come. As she slips in and out of the painful “dark place” of each contraction, she continually struggles for control (267). At first, she tries to count through the contractions, but at some point this becomes futile: “She no longer has control of the numbers either, she can no longer see them, . . . . She realizes that she has practised for the wrong thing, . . . she should have practised for this, whatever it is” (266). Like many laboring mothers, including myself during my first delivery, Jeanie experiences a moment when she refuses to accept that she must go on, stating forcefully, “’I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t do this’” (267). Of course, she has to do it; she has to continue laboring and delivering her child. What “it is,” then, that Jeanie should have practiced for, is the realization that she cannot stop this terrible process, that she must see it out to its end.

After her baby is born, Jeanie regards the infant carefully and decides that “giving birth” is a misnomer for the experience that both she and her little girl have just undergone: “Birth isn’t something that has been given to her, nor has she taken it. It was just something that has happened so they could greet each other like this” (269). Here Jeannie rejects the romantic notion of delivery that positions the mother as the active giver of life and instead realizes that a mother who “gives birth” is simply stuck in a necessary cycle of life and death that she cannot fully control. As both baby and mother drift off to sleep, Jeanie’s partner, states definitively, “’You see, there was nothing to be afraid of’” (270). Even in her state of exhaustion, Jeanie recognizes that “he was wrong” (270).

As “Giving Birth” demonstrates, what is terrifying about the birthing process is not only the pain but the realization that one’s body will carry out the deed regardless of whether or not one’s mind wishes for it to stop or carry on and, therefore, that we have only limited control over our own bodies. Also, during a delivery, a part of the mother’s body becomes its own person. This means that childbirth truly is an “initiation,” as Jeanie calls it, into a state in which the mother inevitably loses more and more control over what was once her own body. Even though my delivery of Wes was less difficult than my delivery of Taegan six years before, I still recall a moment during his birth when I thought to myself, "I can't do this. I can't go on." Despite the fact that his actual arrival into this world was a bit easier than I expected given my previous experiences, I still maintain that "giving birth," is both an intense realization of and gateway into the sheer terror of the often powerlessness of parenthood.

Bibliographic Note: For a reading of Atwood’s short story as a depiction of a woman’s creative process, see Pascale Sardin’s “Creation and Procreation in Margaret Atwood’s ‘Giving Birth’: A Narrative of Doubles.”

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. “Giving Birth.” Mothers and Daughters in the Twentieth Century: A Literary Anthology. Ed. Heather Ingman. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1999. 255-71.

Sardin, Pascale. “Creation and Procreation in Margaret Atwood’s ‘Giving Birth’: A Narrative of Doubles.” Women’s Literary Creativity and The Female Body. Ed. Diane Long Hoeveler and Donna Decker Schuster. New York: Macmillan, 2007. 163-174.

Resisting the Trip in Pink Floyd: The Wall

The Wall. I had somehow lived through a full thirty years without having to view it. Until last Saturday, that is, when my husband pulled the film musical from his amazingly eclectic DVD collection and popped it into the Blu-Ray, stating that he hadn’t seen it since high school and was sure that he couldn’t have possibly “gotten it” back then and that it therefore deserved re-watching. The film—based on the experiences and personal anxieties of Pink Floyd founding member Roger Waters, first envisioned by Waters as a companion piece to the 1979 album of the same name, and produced in 1982 by award-winning director Alan Parker—is, of course, legendary among Pink Floyd fans. I find it, however, more than a little masturbatory and am frankly disturbed not only by its superfluously surreal scenes, like the one in which Pink, the main character, takes a nighttime swim in a pool of blood, but also by its blatant sexism, which has apparently passed for nearly three decades as a reasonable depiction of some vague sense of a universally-felt post-WWII angst. Is it me, or does this film project written, directed, and produced by a bunch of middle-aged, male British rockers and movie artists posit Roger Waters’s mother herself as the root of all institutional and national evil?

After a similar experience to mine—watching the film as an adult equipped to handle its insidious self-centeredness instead of a teenager enthralled with Waters’s countercultural overtures—fellow blogger Sarah Foss concludes, “There’s something insular and myopic about it, as if Waters lacked the introspection to sort through his unhappiness and anger and create a work that actually had something to say about the world” (par. 6). Indeed. Pink, a rocker representative of Waters himself, is ultimately portrayed as shaped—through a childhood dominated by an alternately neglectful and overbearing mother, an education at the hands of repressed schoolmasters, and marriage to a sexual devouring fem fatale—into a murderous fascist leader. While Waters classifies The Wall in Retrospective, a documentary of the film’s making, as a study in human disconnection characteristic of the post-modernist period, I argue that it situates the mother as the impetus behind not only fascism and WWII but also conformity, death, and hatred in general.

Pink’s father dies in service to his country during WWII, his death depicted in a sequence that cuts from the bombing of his bunker in continental Europe directly to the grotesque image of his overweight wife—Pink’s mother—napping in a beautiful British garden, snoring through not only her husband’s death in a foreign land but also the crying of her infant son in his baby carriage a few feet away. The implication, of course, is that the father died to protect the orderly life of this monstrously selfish woman who refuses to even adequately meet the needs of her own child. Pink’s mother is further portrayed as a cold and neurotic woman, in a later scene when she refuses to allow her son to care for an injured animal, a rat that therefore dies of its wounds, and in a repeating flashback of Pink as a skeleton lying snuggled against her grotesque body—again, open-mouthed and snoring. Pink’s isolation from humanity is thus rooted in the lack of nurturance—but also the suffocating maternal attention—that he receives from his mother.

In Pink’s experience, in fact, all women are controlling and punitive matriarchs. His schoolteacher raps young Pink’s knuckles with a ruler in a misdirected expression of his own anger at his—again overlarge—wife who is portrayed as keeping him on the proverbial short leash, even going so far as to spank him in a recurring cartoonish depiction of their relationship. Adult Pink is used sexually by his wife, a woman who then leaves Pink and goes on to ignore his collect call which threatens to interrupt her tryst with another man. Indeed, this film bothers not with subtlety in its representation of women as the root of all evil, repeatedly depicting a fleshy pink flower as morphing into a vagina dentate and then swallowing a phallic-shaped rose bud in a recurring animated portrayal of the hopelessness of withstanding the treachery of female sexual and social control.

Given the misogyny that infiltrates The Wall, it is difficult to see the ending rape scene—on a surface level representative of the evil intrinsic to human disconnection—as anything more than the fulfillment of the fantasies of its creators. In Retrospective, Parker points out that the men who performed in the rape scene—of the only black female character who appears in the entire movie, mind you—were “real skin heads” and that the shooting of the scene was uncomfortable because it blurred the line between art and reality. I can’t help but to wonder why was it necessary to use “real skin heads” for this scene if not to further realize some sort of disturbing rape fantasy that would duly discipline the women responsible for the sad state of post-modernist mankind.

In any case, it turns out that our spontaneous viewing of The Wall was timely, as Roger Waters announced in mid-April that he is planning to revive the music from the 1980 album The Wall during a 35-date tour beginning in Toronto in September of this year. Waters will tour with a full band and perform the album in its entirety at each show. On his website, Waters claims,

. . . it has occurred to me that maybe the story of my fear and loss with it’s [sic] concomitant inevitable residue of ridicule, shame and punishment, provides an allegory for broader concerns: Nationalism, racism, sexism, religion, Whatever! All these issues and ‘isms are driven by the same fears that drove my young life. This new production of The Wall is an attempt to draw some comparisons, to illuminate our current predicament, and is dedicated to all the innocent lost in the intervening years. . . . I believe we have at least a chance to aspire to something better than the dog eat dog ritual slaughter that is our current response to our institutionalized fear of each other. I feel it is my responsibility as an artist to express my, albeit guarded, optimism, and encourage others to do the same. (par. 4-10)

It seems to me that any further idolization of the story told in The Wall—either film or album—is unlikely to lead to the realization of fuller human connection or to bring us any closer to world peace but instead will affirm the insular worldview of a group of spoiled British rock stars and contribute to the continued stereotyping of women as little more than castrating bitches. Certainly, some of the most celebrated lyrics in all of Pink Floyd musical history, from "Another Brick in the Wall" of The Wall album, depict women (and fat women in particular) as the cause of institutional—and therefore national—malevolence:

When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would hurt the children anyway they could
By pouring their derision upon anything we did
Exposing any weakness however carefully hidden by the kids.
But in the town it was well known
When they got home at night, their fat and psychopathic wives
Would thrash them within inches of their lives!

I’m glad that I finally watched The Wall, but, as I told my husband at its conclusion late Saturday night, perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had seen it while still a teenager like he first had. At least then I probably could have mustered up some vague sense of appreciation for the trippy pool scene and others like it that have gained the film its reputation among Pink Floyd fans. As a 30-year-old mother and feminist scholar, however, I had trouble seeing past the very real social implications of the monstrous snoring mother and devouring vagina flower.

Bibliography Note: See Romero and Cabo a compelling and detailed analysis of the national historical context surrounding both the narrative within and production of The Wall.

Works Cited

Foss, Sarah. "Watching 'Pink Floyd: The Wall.'" [Weblog Entry.] Foss Forward. 12 Apr. 2010 ( 2 May 2010.

Pink Floyd: The Wall. Dir. Alan Parker. Perf. Bob Geldof. Goldcrest Films International, 1982. Film.

Retrospective: The Making of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Perf. Alan Parker and Roger Waters. 2005. Documentary.

Romero, Jorge Sacido and Luis Miguel Varela Cabo. “Roger Waters’ Poetry of the Absent Father: British Identity in Pink Floyd’s
The Wall.” Atlantis 28.2 (2006): 45-58.

Waters, Roger. "Why Am I Doing The Wall Again Now?" Official Rogers Waters Site. 2010. 2 May 2010.